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Wis. governor signs legislation to keep Medicaid work requirements in place

Wisconsin's outgoing Republican governor, Scott Walker, signed legislation cementing the state's work requirement for people in the Medicaid health insurance program for low-income people and preventing Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers from eliminating it.

The state legislature passed the package of three bills last week in an overnight session. The legislation, which Walker signed Dec. 14, includes provisions that strip away some powers of the governors' office before Evers takes office in January 2019.

Shortly after Walker signed the legislation, he defended his decision to sign them into law.

"Despite all the hype and hysteria out there, these bills do nothing to fundamentally diminish executive authority," Walker said in a statement. "The bottom line is the new governor will continue to be one of the most powerful chief executives in the country."

Evers has said in the past that he would consider legal action if Walker signed the legislation, but he has not been specific about what the legal action would be.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that oversees the state-run insurance program, approved Wisconsin's work requirements waiver on Oct. 31, less than a week before Evers would beat Walker in the midterm election. Since the program was a waiver approved by CMS and is not state law, Evers was under no obligation to enforce the requirements.

Evers, who made Medicaid expansion a key part of his successful campaign, did not say during the election what his plans were regarding work requirements. However, Evers said in November that he was considering eliminating the new policy, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Under Wisconsin's program, Medicaid recipients between the ages of 19 and 49 will be required to work or participate in a worker training program for 80 hours a month, with certain exceptions for those who are unable to do so. The waiver contains other changes to the Medicaid program that include expanding treatment coverage for substance abuse, establishing an $8-per-household monthly premium and adding a requirement for recipients to complete a health risk assessment.

Walker praised the program when it was approved and said it is meant to help people gain employment, echoing other supporters of the policy such as CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

"With more people working in Wisconsin than ever before, we can't afford to have anyone on the sidelines: we need everyone in the game," Walker said in the October statement. "We want to remove barriers to work and make it easier to get a job while making sure public assistance is available for those who truly need it."

Arkansas is the only state that has actually implemented a work requirement for Medicaid recipients. Since the program began in June, more than 12,000 people have lost Medicaid eligibility and another 6,000 were at risk of losing it at the end of November. The Arkansas Department of Human Services has not yet released November's data.

Aside from Arkansas and Wisconsin, three other states have had programs approved by CMS and 10 states have waivers pending, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

Indiana and New Hampshire are scheduled to begin work requirement programs in January 2019.